"And unless those days had been shortened, no flesh should be saved: but for the sake of the elect, those days shall be shortened."
Matthew 24: 22
Episode Six: The Alpha and Omega
Civilization had ebbed and flowed throughout the countless centuries and millennia that began in this very vicinity. From the seeds of the fruits of the Garden of Eden twelve tribes had evolved, branching to circumference the globe long before anyone was aware the world was not flat.
Now, after all this time, the serpent had returned to the scene of the crime. The question remained this day. Which of these nefarious characters masquerading in human form was the real Satan incarnate?
Through faith, Fr. Niki Andriopoulos knew intuitively that only one could be such a monster, the others mere pawns, hideous, yes, but still duped victims of the lie, prey to the ruthless power of the evil one. The key to victory was in weakening the enemy, divide and conquer. Niki had no idea who was the real host and who were merely weaker conveyers. They had to find the weak link. It wouldn't be as difficult as they thought. Prayer and the pride of the enemy would assure that.
Dateline: Field of Death - New Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq - Nov 7, 5:30 a.m.
Niki spoke softly in a voice not really his own, "And I saw Heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him, was called Faithful and True."
Pat was inquisitive, "Sounds like the Bible."
"It is," Niki responded softly in his own voice, "The Apocalypse. The Song of Triumph. The Defeat of the Beast."
"We can only hope and pray," Pat encouraged to which Niki did not answer but continued in the other voice, an ethereal calm voice.
"And He was clothed with a white garment sprinkled with blood; and His name is called, The Word of God."
"I think we better be ready, Nik." The realization of Pat's statement shocked Fr. Niki back into the moment.
"It's time, cara mia," Pat whispered to her. "They'll be here soon. We've got to be ready."
"Already?" she asked wearily, the pain returning. Then she realized that it was getting lighter, and they'd better take no chance on being caught free by their captors. "Help me, please, my love, my arm's stiffened."
Gently Pat placed her arm to her side concealing the splint and wrapping the rope loosely in the back but taut in the front to deceive the Legion. He helped Niki fasten himself to the post, and then Pat leaned his back to the post and with one hand swung it around him and pulled it tight from the back where he held the ropes. He had already done the same with his feet. They sat there the three of them braced to the post, both Niki and Pat leaning towards Corrie to cover her arms, hoping Blix wouldn't remember that Corrie hadn't worn a jacket when she'd been tied up the night before.
Hopefully, Pat thought, Blix would be too busy to notice much besides preparing for the Master.
They only had a few minutes to wait before they heard the sound of a vehicle approaching, the crunch of wheels on loose earth. Then, into the gathering light of advancing dawn the headlights signaled they had arrived. The car pulled to a stop about fifteen yards away and five people emerged.
From Pat's vantage point he sized up the opposition. Vendhem was the first he saw. By the way he was dressed no one would believe that just 12 hours ago he'd worn the robes of a Cardinal of the Church and so close to becoming Pope. Now he looked like some high priest from some ancient superstitious sect, which was, in a way, exactly what he was. A vessel, an instrument through which the Devil himself had sought and won power.
The garments Vendhem, and Macelli, who came from the back seat behind Vendhem - his girth blocking the one behind him, were trappings, symbols of evil; nothing more of the power they represented. It was fitting therefore, that they were dark, and the only light would come from the yoke around their neck...those showy jewels which would catch the sunlight and glisten with prisms as the unholy power was unleashed from hell.
Despite all this, Pat confidently mumbled to Niki, "I like our chances."
"You would," Niki exhaled.
Soto accompanied another, a darker man. It was Ogidi. He was being guarded at gun-point, but otherwise seemed to have suffered no abuse at their hands. In fact, of all of them, he seemed in perfect
spirits, and in perfect control.
"Thank God, Ogidi's alive," Niki offered.
"Told ya we've got a good chance, Nik," Pat punctuated as Corrie was just coming fully to her senses.
"If you ask me, they're all devils," Corrie snapped at the four intruders approaching.
Ogidi had always had that knack of turning the most difficult situation his way by the sheer power of his will, Pat remembered and smiled for his friend. Makuta glanced over at the three prisoners tied to the post at the foot of the hill, then looked up at the skyline above the hill. It was almost dawn.
"Bring the girl to the altar," commanded Blix.
Before Ogidi could make any gesture to them Soto prodded him in the ribs with the gun, and he was forced to retrieve Corrie and carry her up the hill. Slowly they began to climb the hill. Apparently he was to have a front-row seat for this performance. Following behind him in ascending the hill with some difficulty was Macelli, slipping a few times. Blix followed. Vendhem reached the top of the mound where he stood tall and erect, and faced the three prisoners.
"Christianity is finished," the German prelate, decked out in black and scarlet robes, intoned solemnly. "There is no church, no God... There is room for no one else in the universe now except the Master. The Master shall come now...and live!"
"Like hell he will," Gallagher shouted obstinately. Emotions got the best of him as he sprung to his feet, betraying his tethered position at the post. His veins were bulging with anger, "So you blew up a few buildings. Big deal," he chided Vendhem as Soto aimed his pistol at Pat.
Vendhem stayed his hand, "Wait, Mr. Ichariak, let us see what the brash Texan will divulge before we eliminate them all." He then focused his attention on Gallagher. "What do you mean, misguided man? It is over. Accept the Master!" Josef demanded.
Niki knew Pat was a sitting duck and decided it was too late to continue the pretence of being tied up. He sprang to his feet, moving farther away horizontally from Pat who caught the drift and he too edged farther away from the post.
The ploy to distract and separate was their last hope as Pat, now calmer, stalled for time, "The Vatican. What was it? Just a few buildings. Nothin' more. You shoulda known that, oh mighty Lord Vendhem," Pat's sarcasm oozed with disrespect for this faux prelate. "You lived there long enough, and you, too, fat boy."
Macelli did not take kindly to insults, especially from one so insolent as this obnoxious and pesky know-it-all Texan who had foiled so many of the Legion's plans. "Kill them both now," commanded Antonio, but again Vendhem refused.
"You are nothing but hot wind," Vendhem was caught up in the trap. "You all are miserable, desperate to hold on to superstitions to a God who does not exist."
Pat was up to the challenge. Time. He needed to stall. "St. Peter's still stands, dumbkoff," Pat shot back.
Niki chimed in, hoping to further exacerbate both Vendhem and Macelli. "You cannot destroy what God has made, traitorous ones. You will feel the wrath of the Lord Almighty."
Vendhem's face was now crimson with rage. "How dare you!"
"We dared nothing," Niki countered. "You are the ones who failed by letting your pride get in the way."
"Yeah," baited Pat, "I don't think the Master'll take too kindly to that, do you?"
"I did what was right, what the Master wanted," screamed Vendhem, now definitely on the defensive as his voice echoed over the deserted Field of Death.
"By lettin' yer pride get in the way of the election," reprimanded Blix as he moved away from near the altar to the ridge. The old man was wise to the tricks of these three and he sought to capitalize on the weaknesses of these prelates to advance his own cause.
"You dare question me?" Vendhem fumed at Blix's remarks.
Blix pounced. "Ya did what Vendhem wanted, what Macelli wanted. What ya both thought would gain approval from the Master without realizin' the Legion's goals are the Master's goals. Ya've both proven yourselves unworthy. The Master will come, as planned, but ya leave him to finish a task that shoulda been completed long ago - the total destruction of the Church's hierarchy and the elimination of these pesky varmints who've foiled so many of our plans."
Macelli was livid. "Were you there, Signor Blix? No! You have no idea what we have been through. Your accusations are unwarranted."
"Ah think not," snapped Blix. "But that's alright. Ah'll help him achieve that victory." Blix's boast was daring.
Vendhem started forward, hands outstretched toward Blix, who backed away, somewhat startled as he looked for Soto to defend him. As Soto raised his gun, Ogidi swung Corrie around, flinging her at Soto from the side. The force of her hurtling body toppled Soto over the ridge, the gun falling harmlessly near where Corrie landed with a thud. Ans, on the other side of the makeshift altar, could not act fast enough. Despite the aches and pains that plagued Corrie this morning, her adrenaline would not let her die. She stretched for the gun and aimed it at the heart of the oncoming Ans. Bam!
One eunuch down, one to go. But three monsters still on the loose.
"Seize the girl," barked Blix at Soto trying to regain his footing. "Marinko, help him."
Makuta gave him a sly grin. "I am not Marinko. Remember?"
Corrie kept the pistol aimed at Blix, who was visibly growing older by the minute.
Vendhem and Macelli tried to seize the day. Vendhem lunged at Corrie, knocking her off balance as the bullet whistled just a foot from Blix's head and found its mark in Soto. Two down, three to go.
Macelli overpowered her from the side, wrestling her arms behind her back as he grabbed the gun. Now he would restore order.
"Well, Signor Blix, I see you do not have things under control," sniggered Macelli. "But we do. And so we will offer the maiden up to the Master." Pointing the pistol at Ogidi, Macelli ordered Makuta to do as he was told. "Black man, put her on the altar now."
Ogidi had no choice. He scooped up the handicapped Corrie and gently carried her to the altar, placing her squarely in the center on the pentagram-etched stone.
Distracted by distrust of each other, they had not been aware of the movement by both Pat and Niki. Pat was visible just behind them. He had scaled the ridge. Niki was nowhere to be seen.
"Gotta deal. Take me," Pat surrendered, "Trade me for the girl."
"How touchin'," Blix shot back, realizing he had to step cautiously, not trusting anyone. "No, Gallagher, ya serve another purpose. We have a ceremony to perform." Feigning that he was throwing down the gauntlet, Blix gestured to Macelli and Vendhem. "Gentlemen, times a wastin' so waste him!"
In a split second Pat knew what was coming. He dove off the ridge just as Macelli fired past him. Ogidi reacted instantly, barreling into the stout Italian. The impact sent them both rolling down the same hill.
Pat was johnny-on-the-spont. He grabbed the loose gun, waiting to get a clear shot. Ogidi dove to the left, and Pat fired back at the rotund Italian who had finally met his end. He screamed in horror; an eternity of darkness awaited.
Picking up on the disintegration between the unholy trinity of Blix, Macelli and Vendhem, Pat's mind raced. Two against three are not good odds, two against one are much better. Blix was the key. Gallagher decided to roll the dice to work on Blix first.
"Hey, Lizard breath, why ya pickin' on a girl? Are you a wimp or what? Pick on someone your own size, Basilisk brain."
Blix tried to ignore the taunting as he and Vendhem began to experience panic, quite possibly for the first time ever, as they expedited the unworldly incantations. Terror was gripping them both for they had to do something. Otherwise there would be no one left alive to receive the Master. And that was all they knew for certain - the arrival of the Master was minutes away. They could not delay it with these damaging distractions. For all eternity this moment had been planned by the prince of the world. It must be.
As the sky to the east began to brighten the silhouettes of these two gaunt figures in black robes cast an eerie, foreboding shadow over the entire field. Seemingly oblivious to Pat and Niki, Vendhem and Blix picked up the pace. With only two celebrants, the sacrifice must be ready. The German prelate reached for the machete. The woman who started this all with a simple bite of an apple could not have dreamt of such a fate for this feminine victim who lay prostrate upon this nefarious altar. It was inhuman.
Vendhem raised the machete and even in murder, jealousy arose. "Josef, allow me this last privilege," pleaded Blix. "There's no one Ah'd rather kill than this filly. Ya heah?"
"Be my guest," offered Vendhem, realizing cooperation might buy him points with the Master though nothing was ever guaranteed. The knife never reached Blix's hands. Niki appeared from beneath the stone and flung himself between the two grabbing the machete as Pat reached the edge of the summit and fixed his gun on the two of them.
"Okay, you jokers. Jigs up," announced Pat triumphantly, moving cautiously around behind the stone platform where with one hand he loosened the knots on Corrie's wrists and ankles. "Cara mia, it's over. You okay."
Corrie nodded, too weak to respond as she slowly, painfully eased herself off the fated stone.
"No one'll deny me mah rightful place in the kingdom," Blix spat angrily both at Pat and Vendhem.
"It is my place," insisted Vendhem, railing at Blix. "The Master has chosen me, mein herr."
"Afraid not, pahdner," Blix shot back. "Ah'm the brains behind the successful victories, Vendhem. Yer nothin'. A mere puppet."
"That's right, Vendhem," chided Pat trying to foment the dissent between the two. "A puppet."
"Little men on little strings," Niki jerked their attention to his direction as he firmly gripped the machete in self defense.
"Fools who think they will be kings," he continued, seeing the mottled rage in Blix's face seethe upward and boil over in his eyes; eyes that had become as demented as Vendhem's.
Then another voice, entered the fray. It was Corrie's. "What's the matter, Blix? Things not going your way? You'd planned it all so neatly, too. Guess you should've checked with him long ago, huh?"
"Yeah," Pat chimed in, "shame the Master didn't agree with your plans, buddy."
Corrie added the dagger, "now there's nothin' left for it to do but destroy the once mighty Blix."
Edwin Blix could stand it no longer. He was filled with power as the sun peeked over the horizon. The evil consumed him, devoured him, pushed him forward blindly. Blix had only one thought. He'd kill this bitch who sought to taunt him and drive him mad, and then he'd be able to handle Vendhem and these other two men. The bitch had to come first.
He lunged toward Corrie, Vendhem watching him warily which gave Niki the opportunity he needed to distract Vendhem.
Blix seemed to grow larger as Corrie shrank back in fear for her life. Her one arm was so badly damaged it was useless, more of a hindrance than a help. She could hardly deal with the writhing evilness that was lunging toward her.
Yet her countenance said she'd give it her best shot. She had promised she would take Blix with her. By God this was the moment. Resigned to martyrdom, Corrie was willing to give herself up so Niki and Pat could conquer these two monsters.
However, the love of her life was not about to let her suffer such a fate if he could help it. Before the old man, filled with power beyond belief, could throw himself at her, Pat threw a perfect tackle, sending Blix sprawling into the dust with a roar that seemed like a cannon exploding. The ground shook. Pat and Corrie nearly lost their balance. In an instant Blix was back on his feet, his face more contorted as the Basilisk was making its grotesque appearance all the more manifest, more contorted than ever for Blix's whole being was one huge thrust of power that had one aim now: to kill the woman!
To get to her Blix had to go through Pat. The Basilisk rammed against him as if it was nothing more than a mere battering ram and Gallagher a door. Pat felt the air whammed from his lungs. He sank to his knees gasping for breath, trying to retrieve the pistol laying in the dust. But that seemed useless now for the thing was no longer Blix, but a monster of such depravity that it was unrecognizable, hideous. It lunged again, bringing its claw-like hands down upon Pat's neck, grasping at his bulging veins. Pat fell forward, collapsed by the power of the blow.
Corrie feared the worst, but she didn't have time to grieve. She knew it was just her now. She and what had once been Edwin Blix. Their moment together had come. It was now or never.
The beast stood for a moment, its mouth drawn back while spittle and foam drooled from the fang-like teeth, and the eyes leaped with flames of pure hatred. The hands, now fully claws, poised themselves to slaughter this woman. It was the same repulsive reptile that she saw kill Victor in Blix's study.
Corrie was ready, as ready as she was ever going to be. She flung open her right hand which had been clutching the grime and grit of the Field of Death. It had not occurred to the thing to wonder why she had stood so still with clenched fists. But now it knew as particles of the dust and sand pelted the face and stung the eyes.
It screamed, inhumanly, violently, reeking upon Corrie a horror like no nightmare she had ever had; one she would never forget. But for the moment her strategy worked. The monster fell to its knees, claws trying to clear the debris from the eyes that needed to see in order to hate. The claws dug into its own eyes, causing more bleeding, green ooze seeping forth.
Her next action was swift and accurate. Corrie picked up a rock with a sharp point that lay by her feet. With her good arm she shot forward and brought the small piece of granite down upon the thing's neck, causing it more pain as it toppled onto the dust.
Then, as if all along she'd known it would come down to this, Corrie took from the pocket of her thin dress jacket a small compact mirror she had always carried with her to check her make-up. Cosmetics didn't matter at a time like this, but the glass was invaluable. As the beast struggled to regain leverage, she slid the mirror on the ground near its head in line with the eyes which, within seconds, would try to focus. She retreated a few steps trepidatiously, in great pain, watching with desperate anticipation. It was her only hope, the whole process not taking more than twenty seconds since Blix had torn down the hill after her, knocking Pat unconscious, or worse.
At the top of the hill, Vendhem turned to face Niki, aware of the battle being fought below as the beast finally managed to open an eye, catching its own hideous reflection. It could not move its gaze, so paralyzed by the mirrored image.
The sound that emerged from its throat was the guttural of all screams, of every nightmare that had ever been, the groan of every pain that had ever been felt by the human spirit, and more. Disgust, loathing and hatred escaped its evil and decrepit mouth. The stench of death laced the edge of discord as it whipped around the field in an echo of unearthly agony.
Corrie watched in stunned disbelief as the thing that was half Edwin Blix, half something else from the bowels of hell began to transform - its own image turning upon itself. Inch by inch the facial features distorted further, the skin growing dark and loathsome, eyes bulging, lips protruding, and then scales began to form upon the skin. Before Corrie could dare blink, the powerful magnate was no more. In its place, writhing on the ground, was a lizard...similar to the one depicted on the logo of the Basilisk, only this one the size of a man. With one last gasp the reptile let out a final mind-curdling roar, and its eyes rolled backwards into its misshapen skull as it heaved once and then stillness at Corrie's feet.
The woman had triumphed.
Corrie didn't have time to feel victorious for almost immediately the thing in front of her began to shrivel and melt away, while from the direction at the top of the hill she heard another ungodly roar, that same deep bellowing of the nether regions that made the earth shake with fear and loathing. Her glance caught Vendhem stretching to attack Niki who wielded the machete at the lunging monster in transition.
It might as well have been a toothpick for Vendhem, transforming in the same manner Blix had, brushed away the machete as a mere nuisance and continued towards his kill. Niki did not have time to reach beneath his belt.
Then a gunshot and Vendhem screeched in pain. Blood spurted out in a stream, cascading to the dust in an arch that was surprisingly perfect in its geometrical form. But the evil German was not to be stopped by one bullet. As if propelled from within like a robot, Vendhem advanced. His only purpose was to take this Greek with him to hell.
Pat was closer now, more focused as he sought to distract Vendhem, screaming at the top of his lungs, "you're not worthy to wear the mantle of Lucifer. You're weak. Just an old man who's dyin'. It's over Vendhem!"
With that he raised the gun once more from his prone position and fired the last bullet. He was out of ammo. The shell penetrated the black heart of this evil prelate and the scream of defeat escaped with the stench of putrid air and death coming from the body that had once been covered in the garments of a holy man. The apostate had sold his soul, now it was time for the Devil to collect.
Vendhem clutched the air as if to grasp one final moment of light before the darkness descended forever. Then he plunged forward, dead at the Greek's feet.
It was over. The Master had been denied a living host. His time had passed. Niki, seemingly too tired to move, looked down to where Corrie was helping a stunned Patrick to his feet. Pat surveyed the shriveled carcass of what had once been the mighty mogul of the Metropolitan Mirror.
Oh, for a photo shot now. What a front page headline. Would they believe it back home?
The adrenaline of accomplishment raced through him as he hobbled up the hill toward Niki, standing shakily over the body of Vendhem. That gave Pat all the momentum he needed to move as he bounded with difficulty up the hill, making sure that Vendhem was really dead, clutching Niki about the shoulders.
"We did it, Nik," Pat emoted hysterically, "It's really over! Do you realize that? The Basilisk is dead! Thank God. I had no bullets left."
"I know," Andriopoulos smiled weakly, almost in shock, "We have given the moment and the world back to God. But I do not think I shall ever forget this day or the last few as long as I live."
Pat hugged Corrie closely as both leaned on each other for support. "You can say that again," Pat sighed to which Corrie added, "we'll never forget."
"Come, my friends. It's bad. But time will heal the memories. And you have Corrie, too, don't forget," Niki prompted his weary friend. "First we must get medical help for Corrie. She needs immediate care. Thank God, Ogidi is here."
Niki turned toward Makuta on the ground facing away from the eastern sun. The body didn't move. Niki feared the worse. "My God, Makuta, are you alright?"
His fears were allayed momentarily when he saw the African nod affirmatively. Niki showed concern as he moved closer to Ogidi. "Makuta, you are too solemn. Is it not an occasion for rejoicing?"
There was no gesture of affirmation.
Pat edged nearer to him. "Dr. Ogidi, it's over. Did ya hear me? Corrie needs help."
Makuta rose to his feet, his back still to them. "Oh, yes, I heard you," acknowledged the Doctor.
"It's really over, Makuta. We've won," rejoiced Pat. "By a miracle, I know. But we won. Part of the Vatican's gone, but that can be rebuilt. After all Rome wasn't built in a day. C'mon, Doctor, we've won."
Ogidi turned very slowly, very deliberately towards them; his face coming from the darkness of the lingering night shadows into the powerful light of the dawning sun, which was just above the rim of the hills in the distance. Its angle cast a perfect glow off Ogidi's face, preventing the three from getting a clear view.
"No, my foolish comrades," Ogidi laughed mockingly, "you have not!"
"Is he okay?" Corrie asked, not realizing what was happening.
It was then that they saw the eyes of molten lava. It was too late as Ogidi seemed to have the upper hand. "There was no way they could injure me. Gallagher, Andriopoulos. You have always known that. But you would never admit it. Never look beyond the obvious. That was my tool, my weapon against the likes of you. You trusted, you believed, you accepted me for what you wanted me to be, not what I am."
Ogidi strut his face into the light, "I am," he repeated, tossing his head back down to the normal level, the sunlight now forming streaks of alternating shadow and light. And in the pattern both Niki and Pat saw what they feared the most: the true evil eyes of the true beast of hell, those glowing orbs of Black Fire, from which leaped red flames that consumed and devoured all within its path.
Pat stepped back, pushing Niki behind him and pulling Corrie with him. "Oh, God, it's you. It's always been you!"
"Of course," taunted the proud African. "And now you begin to see how cleverly I used you, how I used all those devoted disciples who never had a chance, who were never worth more to me than the moment they served. They all destroyed themselves by their ineptness, their boundless pride, greed, avarice. I know those emotions so much better than they, do you not agree? I would never let anyone take those possessions away from me. They are my greatest source of comfort."
"How could you betray us?" Niki demanded in lament. "I trusted you."
"Am I to commend or denounce you?" Ogidi flaunted.
Niki tried to respond. He couldn't. What was the point now?
"You do not question. Good," continued Makuta. "It is beyond that now, as you will agree. You have fought a valiant battle, but face it, my misguided friends. You have lost. And now, I have no need for any of you to remain here to see my kingdom thrive. And it will. Oh, will it! This moment has been destined from all eternity. I have made my mark upon the world, and it will grow until the entire universe belongs to me. You may think of that during your own eternity of blackness, for you are mine now to do with as I want."
"Never," Gallagher cried out defiantly, backing away another step while Niki stealthily reached beneath his belt, the secret pocket attached inside the leather and drew forth something circular, rimmed in gold. The small ciborium pyx. The priest shoved Pat out of the way as he tried to unlatch it to expose it for Ogidi to gaze upon - to be paralyzed by the miraculous brilliance of It.
But Ogidi knew. In a flash he swiped at Niki's right arm, sending the golden orb sailing like a miniature Frisbee to the other side of the hill. With such power he roared, "I AM THE MASTER!!!"
He was transforming into Satan itself. The host was receptive to the reptile. The Basilisk was more powerful than ever with all the powers of hell pushing him on. Pat, Niki and Corrie cowered under Ogidi's glare as he roared again, "I AM THE MASTER!!!"
"Don't look at its eyes," Niki cautioned with all urgency as the beast became more hideous than any of its predecessors this day.
While Ogidi's heinous unearthly laughter cackled over the Field of Death, a short ways near the base of the eastern hill, a rough hewn hand reached down, retrieving the ciborium pyx that had been so unceremoniously flung from Niki's consecrated hands. The man unclasped it revealing the Host which Pat had not received: the consecrated Body of Jesus Christ confected in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass Niki had said in the turret room the day before for Pope Clement XV - the Holy Father's final Mass. Free of the golden container, the Host was now visible inside the crystal ciborium. The Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ - the heart and soul of the Church.
As he slowly, carefully and silently ascended the hill on the eastern side, the man could hear Ogidi bellowing just 40 feet away. "Bow down and serve me. I am the power. I am your God now."
"I think not!" the voice boomed forth from the East. Twenty feet away stood the silhouette of a man whose voice sounded familiar. It couldn't be. He held the crystal pyx high above his heads aimed at the Basilisk. "By the powers invested in me, I say: BEGONE, SATAN!"
The morning rays reflected off the crystal pyx containing the Sacred Host. A spectrum of beams shot forth directly at the beast formerly known as Ogidi. As the sun climbed higher and the mysterious figure moved closer all knew who he was.
"FASIF!" Niki shouted in glee, "You are alive!"
"Thank God for miracles," Pat clamored. "We need one right now."
Enraged, Ogidi momentarily forgot the three and centered his attention on confronting Khadid, who was truly alive in the flesh. Ogidi, his hands and skin now transforming to claws and scales, lunged at Fasif. But the clever Cardinal sidestepped the fallen reptile just in time and held out the only weapon that would destroy the Master of the underworld: the very presence of God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament.
Ogidi was struck as if by a bolt of lighting at the sight of the Host. He could feel God's presence and he shrank from such Awe. The Devil knew he was weaker in the Almighty's immediate company.
Gallagher and Morelli watched, stupefied by the events going on and then realized as he flung his gun away from him into the dust that the real weapon they'd always needed and had all the time was now being used by a man most worthy to save the world from the Powers and Principalities of Hell.
Fasif lifted the Host higher, within the crystal, until the angle of the morning sun prismed off the center of the crystal pyx. The light emanated out, filling the Field of Death with a Heavenly glow that spoke of hope, joy, love and mercy in its every touch. For Ogidi it was quite the opposite. Step by step Fasif began to back the Basilisk toward the far side of the hill. The true Basilisk, the Master, Lucifer himself could not break the holy spell. He could not avert his evil eyes from the glowing orb which effervesced with the essence of the Truth, the Way and the Life Itself.
The sunlight seemed to erupt into rainbows that sped across the Field of Death, and where they touched there was no longer dust and rubble, but green grass and flowers began to sprout up as if they'd been nourished there and only dormant for a long, long, long time.
Inch by inch, Ogidi backed away as the light of the crystal ciborium containing the Sacred Host grew with such intensity that those caught within it were nearly lost to the sight of one another. It consumed, but at the same time it restored life. It altered, transformed, but took the humanity of the individual and made it what it had always been in the eyes of God - a reflection of man made in God's image. It uplifted, renewed, revitalized, replaced sorrow with joy, healed hurts, sorrows and physical injuries that were beyond any earthly means of instant repair.
Fasif was determined that God would win. For all that the Almighty had permitted from the time the first parents were banished from this place, It was now the Almighty's ordaining Will for this moment to occur. It had always been ordained thus.
When it became obvious that Ogidi could retreat no further except to the western edge of the hill, the beast tried to cover his lidless eyes with his scaly claws. But they were paralyzed by his side as Cardinal Fasif Khadid reverently removed the Host from the crystal pyx and held the Host aloft - the light within its very core beginning to pulsate.
Fasif vocalized in a forceful, booming voice, "By the Power of God, cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits, who prowl this earth seeking the ruin of souls."
Then there emerged a sound. At first it seemed the whisper of bells, of chimes in the far distance. A lyre or a harp in the evening sunset. And then the pleasant sounds merged and became a Voice that was filled with authoritative melody; a Voice, which Pat, Niki and Corrie marveled at, for it was of a Child. And the Voice spoke directly to Ogidi, who seemed to shrink in upon himself as the words touched him. "I AM," transmitted the Voice in an audible whisper. "Always and forever. The Alpha and the Omega. Begone, Satan! Back into the chains of hell where you chose forever to be by your 'non serviam'. For now the Church I established upon Petras is renewed to its glory, resting safely in the arms of the Vicar whom My Spirit shall shortly choose; one who is molded from My Heart and the Immaculate Heart of My Most Holy Mother. My Church lives. I am her Protector, the Ark of the Covenant. I AM!"
Pure light strobes poured from the Host towards Ogidi then refracted outward to all corners of the Field of Death. The beast collapsed to its knees, the splendid light from the Host cascading over him, washing him, but defeating him at the same time. The purity of the light Ogidi could not tolerate. Were he merely a man, Makuta might have had a chance for repentance. Such is the Divine Mercy extended by Our Lord. But he had already had his chance and said "I will not serve." With each strobe the hideous beast shrank, melting in upon itself, as it were, until it was a tiny speck upon the earth. Where the transformed Ogidi lay writhing there was no grass or wildflowers, only the barren tundra covered with the dust and rubble of the previous destruction.
Realizing triumph, Niki, Pat and Corrie quickly appeared by Fasif's side, watching in utter amazement as Ogidi dwindled before their very eyes. And then, suddenly, as if in final protest to the brilliant illumination that was streaked with gold and silver, and strung together with the immaculate blue of a perfect sky, there was a violent trembling of the earth where the shrunken Ogidi remained. Then a sudden flash of fire - Black Fire! When the fire and black smoke settled, there was no longer any semblance of Ogidi to be found. Instead, on that very spot, lie a lizard - a lizard that darted its tongue and its eyes flashed about in anger, as it tried to slither away.
Immediately Niki picked up a fairly heavy rock from the ground and brought it crashing down with a sickening thud on the reptile's head. As he hurtled it downward, Fasif lifted his voice and cried out, "Upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
As they looked up in relief, all realized it was no longer the Field of Death. Now as far as the eye could see was a lush verdant carpet of green dotted with magnificent colorful flowers and trees of every kind providing shade as the birds of the air alighted on its branches. Truly Pat, Corrie, Niki and Fasif were looking at and standing in the center of the Garden of Eden.
Corrie's eyes were wet, her cheeks awash with tears of joy, as were Niki's and Pat's as well. Very carefully Fasif, with his forefingers and thumbs broke the Sacred Host into four pieces, as the other three dropped to their knees.
Pat looked up embarrassed, "Niki, I can't. Still haven't been to confession."
"Me either," admitted Corrie. "It's been years."
"I know," Fasif assuaged, "but I also have been shown their hearts, Nikolas." Turning to the couple, Fasif smiled. "Patrick, Corrine, Ego te absolvo, in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Go and sin no more."
They each made the sign of the cross as Fasif gestured to Niki. "Father Nikolas, please say the Confiteor."
As Niki bowed his head and prayed the prayer in Latin which asked absolution of all venial sin, Pat squeezed Corrie's hand tight, drawing her closer as they prepared to receive Christ the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, present in that tiny Host which had worked such a wondrous miracle of miracles just minutes ago. How could anyone ever doubt the Power of the True Presence after this day?
Father Niki finished the Confiteor as Fasif consumed one small piece, then turned toward the three, praying the short Misereatur in asking God to accept the penitents' confession. Then the noble Cardinal held the broken Host aloft again, praying Domine non sum dignus three times, a reminder of the humble centurion who did not feel worthy for the Lord to come under his roof.
Reverently Fasif placed a particle of the broken Host on Pat's tongue, "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam Tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen." He then repeated the same with Corrie and, finally, Father Andriopoulos.
After a short time of silent prayer, Niki could no longer contain his inquisitiveness. "You know about the explosions at the Vatican and that Pope Clement has truly died?"
"Sadly, yes, my friends," Fasif was solemn. "There has been too much destruction, the countless millions, my beloved sister Helene, my dear niece Karel, my faithful Elias and then Victor, poor Victor. Many had to sacrifice their lives to overcome this hideous scourge of the Basiliscos. Yes, my friends, God does allow evil for good."
"But the good guys finally won!" Pat gushed.
"And you, my American friends," Fasif embraced Pat in one arm and Corrie in the other, "are truly good guys! Indeed, Father Niki, you are truly a judge of good character."
"Well, these characters want to ask a favor, your Eminence," Niki sheepishly grinned.
"Your wish is our pleasure if it is reasonable," smiled Cardinal Khadid.
"Will you marry us, your Eminence," Pat asked, beaming at Corrie. It was then that he realized all her bruises, scratches, cuts and splint, the dirt and grime had been eliminated. Peering back at him Corrie saw the same thing. All three had been healed of any physical hurts, had been given renewed strength. The fatigue, the aches and pains gone. Faith had triumphed.
"I am honored," Fasif conceded, "but what about Father Niki?"
"You mean 'Cardinal Niki'," Pat piped up.
"Of course, and well deserved," agreed Fasif.
"Besides, Fr. Niki is going to be our Best Man, your Eminence," added Corrie, "and Sister Bridie our Maid of Honor."
"A better entourage I cannot think of," beamed Fasif. "You have your minds made up so how can I resist."
They both unabashedly hugged the Prince of the Church as Niki interrupted the embrace. "We thought you had died. We had no hope until the Holy Father's statement. But even then we still thought you were dead."
"Ah yes," Fasif cleared his throat. It was time to explain. "I phoned Gregory Zachmunn from a secret place after my house was bombed. I had a premonition something was not right so I watched from the hills. My heart bled for Elias, but there was no way to warn him, nor reach you, Nikolas, without being detected. I prayed you would get away and indeed you did."
"Yes, right into the path of Ogidi," Niki winced while winking at Pat.
"Yes, that was one I had very little knowledge of," admitted Fasif. "I kept in contact with Vic and Gregory until I talked with Ben yesterday and Gregory late last night. We all assumed you were returning here, so I hid near here figuring eventually the Basilisk would truly reveal itself."
"If you knew we were here all along," Pat puzzled, "why didn't you free us then?"
"First of all, I did not know exactly where you were. Neither did Gregory or Stephen. It was not until a few hours ago when a chap named Fenton -"
"Then Derrick did make contact," rejoiced Pat.
"Yes, I believe that is his name, he explained what happened and where exactly you were. That allowed me to watch nearby without being seen. It was better that no one knew I was still alive. For, indeed, I, too, did not know who the real host for the Master Basilisk was. All four men were capable. Blessed are they who watch and wait."
"For the devil to tip his hand last," Niki chipped in.
"Amen," concluded Fasif, "And now, my friends, our friend Mr. Fenton has a plane waiting for us near Basra. I do believe," Cardinal Khadid nodded toward Blix's empty limo to the northwest a hundred feet away from them, "that vehicle will convey us swiftly and safely there. Well, my friends, what are we waiting for? We have a wedding, a consistory, and a conclave awaiting in Rome."
"I think we have seen enough black fire for awhile," Niki emphasized.
"Now we await the white smoke and a new Pope," Pat encouraged.
"Ah, yes," agreed Cardinal Fasif. "It is time to rebuild His Church. Let us begin."
Those were the last words spoken on this field, now restored to the way it was eons ago in the Garden of Paradise. No remnants remained from the ghastly events that occurred on this Field just one short week ago. The Field of Death had become the living, breathing Field of Life. Yes, now it was a great garden once again. As the four walked off silhouetted by the rising sun stretching toward the sky, they wondered what the rest of the world looked like this day.
Seven grueling, unbelievable days had come to an end. These four as well as others who had been loyal to the resistance had seen, experienced, and tasted the power of God and His adversary. Their lives would never be the same, nor would the world's for evil had been subdued and a new era had emerged. It would be a holy era. All believed and had pray for just this. How long it would last they left to God, for in their hearts all now knew He alone was Victor over all.
The four of them approached the car silently, arm in arm. The sunlight danced joyfully from behind the distant hills, capturing the beauty of this place. The indescribable magnificent white light from the Host had now dissipated in the daylight as mist curled up and drifted Heavenward when touched by morning's warmth.
Fasif, Niki, Pat and Corrie looked back only once as they entered the limo, with Pat at the wheel. As the white light diffused, it appeared to them as if white smoke ascended ever so regally, announcing to all the world from henceforth and to all the Reign of Jesus Christ.
It's doubtful they noticed this fine mist forming a plume wafting above a particular apple tree not far from where the serpent had been conquered. Fasif knew in his heart this was the event that would usher in the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary as promised at Fatima in 1917 for the woman of Genesis 3: 15 and Apocalypse 12: 1 had delivered as promised; the serpent had been silenced.
The limo slowly cruised over the grassy path bordering the lush, verdant and colorful palette of flowers, foliage and forest that had miraculously sprung up. Cardinal Fasif Khadid, Cardinal-elect Nikolas Andriopoulos, Patrick Gallagher and Corrie Morelli would not realize until they returned to Rome that indeed, what they experienced this morn had also been witnessed by the world in a wondrous and mystical way. An event that would change hardened hearts and bring souls everywhere back to the Truth. How? That was another miracle this day as the white smoke dissolved Heavenward above this authentic Paradise on earth, now renewed fully to its original state.
As they drove off, in the hearts of each was the silent prayer, now visibly manifesting its promise: 'Come, Holy Ghost, fill the hearts of the faithful. Enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created and Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.'
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